Presentation on theme: "Wolfgang E. Paulus, M.D.,a Mingmin Zhang, M.D.,b Erwin Strehler, M.D.,aImam El-Danasouri, Ph.D.,a and Karl Sterzik, M.D.a Christian-Lauritzen-Institut,"— Presentation transcript:
Wolfgang E. Paulus, M.D.,a Mingmin Zhang, M.D.,b Erwin Strehler, M.D.,aImam El-Danasouri, Ph.D.,a and Karl Sterzik, M.D.a Christian-Lauritzen-Institut, Ulm, Germany
To evaluate the effect of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in assisted reproduction therapy (ART) by comparing a group of patients receiving acupuncture treatment shortly before and after embryo transfer with a control group receiving no acupuncture.
Prospective randomized study
After giving informed consent, 160 patients who were undergoing ART and who had good quality embryos were divided into the following two groups through random selection: embryo transfer with acupuncture (n= 80) and embryo transfer without acupuncture (n=80).
Acupuncture was performed in 80 patients 25 minutes before and after embryo transfer. In the control group, embryos were transferred without any supportive therapy.
Clinical pregnancy was defined as the presence of a fetal sac during an ultrasound examination 6 weeks after embryo transfer.
Clinical pregnancies were documented in 34 of 80 patients (42.5%) in the acupuncture group, whereas pregnancy rate was only 26.3% (21 out of 80 patients) in the control group.
Acupuncture seems to be a useful tool for improving pregnancy rate after ART.
Publications focus primarily on acupuncture therapy for male infertility(1, 2). Electroacupuncture may reduce blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women (3). A positive impact of electroacupuncture on endocrinologic parameters and ovulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome has been demonstrated (4). In addition, auricular acupuncture was successfully used in the treatment of female infertility (5).
In the present study, we chose acupuncture points that relax the uterus according to the principles of TCM. Because acupuncture influences the autonomic nervous system, such treatment should optimize endometrial receptivity(6). Our main objective was to evaluate whether acupuncture accompanying embryo transfer increases clinical pregnancy rate.
This study was a prospective randomized trial at the Christian-Lauritzen-Institute in Ulm,Germany. It was approved by the ethics committee of the University of Ulm.
A total of 160 patients was recruited for the study. Patients who failed to conceive during the first treatment cycle were not reentered into the study. According to the randomization, 80 patients were treated with acupuncture, and 80 patients underwent the usual therapy without acupuncture. As Table 1 shows, there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups with respect to the following covariants: age of patient, number of previous cycles, number of transferred embryos, endometrial thickness, plasma estradiol on day of transfer, or method of treatment (IVF or ICSI).
Clinical indications for ART were the same for patients of both groups. The blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries (pulsatility index) did not differ between the groups before and after embryo transfer. The analysis shows that the pregnancy rate for the acupuncture group is considerably higher than for the control group (42.5% vs 26.3%; P.03).
The acupuncture points used in this study were chosen according to the principles of TCM Stimulation of Taiying meridians (spleen) and Yangming meridians (stomach,colon) would result in better blood perfusion and more energy in the uterus. Stimulation of the body points Cx6, Liv3, and Gv20, as well as stimulation of the ear points 34 and 55, would sedate the patient. Ear point 58 would influence the uterus, whereas ear point 22 would stabilize the endocrine system.
The anesthesia-like effects of acupuncture have been studied extensively. Acupuncture needles stimulate muscle afferents innervating ergoreceptors, which leads to increased - endorphin concentration in the cerebrospinal fluid (11). The hypothalamic -endorphinergic system has inhibitory effects on the vasomotor center, thereby reducing sympathetic activity. This central mechanism, which involves the hypothalamic and brainstem systems, controls many major organ systems in the body (12). In addition to central sympathetic inhibition by the endorphin system, acupuncture stimulation of the sensory nerve fibers may inhibit the sympathetic outflow at the spinal level. By changing the concentration of central opioids, acupuncture may also regulate the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis via the central sympathetic system (13).
Kim et al. (14) suggested that Li4 acupuncture treatment could be useful in inhibiting the uterus motility. In their rat experiments, treatment on the Li4 acupoint suppressed the expression of COX-2 enzyme in the endometrium and myometrium of pregnant and nonpregnant uteri.
Stener-Victorin et al. (3) reduced high uterine artery blood flow impedance by a series of eight electroacupuncture treatments, twice a week for 4 weeks. They suggest that a decreased tonic activity in the sympathetic vasoconstrictor fibers to the uterus and an involvement of central mechanisms with general inhibition of the sympathetic outflow may be responsible for this effect. In our study, we could not see any differences in the pulsatility index between the acupuncture and control group before or after embryo transfer. This may be due to a different acupuncture protocol and the selected sample of patients with high blood flow impedance of the uterine arteries (PI 3.0) in the Stener-Victorin et al. study.
As we could not observe any significant differences in covariants between the acupuncture and control groups, the results demonstrate that acupuncture therapy improves pregnancy rate. Further research is needed to demonstrate precisely how acupuncture causes physiologic changes in the uterus and the reproductive system. To rule out the possibility that acupuncture produces only psychological or psychosomatic effects, we plan to use a placebo needle set as a control in a future study.